Food Miles and Fashion

New Zealand Management, June 2006 | Go to article overview

Food Miles and Fashion


How far did the various elements of your breakfast have to travel before they arrived in your bowl this morning?

It's the sort of question that increasingly exercises the minds of those whose goods are stretched ever further out along the increasingly clogged supply arteries of our global marketplace. In the UK these days, people are thinking more about the implications of 'food miles'--and how sustainable they are, says a visiting expert on supply chain management.

Michael Christopher, director of Cranfield Centre for Logistics and Supply Chain Management, was here to present a symposium on "managing the global supply chain in an era of uncertainty".

"It's about how all of us today are part of much longer global pipelines. We've outsourced, gone global and things that were once done locally are now done hundreds of miles away and we take that for granted."

But it makes our supply lines more vulnerable not just to one-off disruptions but increasing costs--such as fuel or pollution levies. This raises some interesting questions around whether they're sustainable long term, says Christopher.

"While the cost of making things has never been cheaper, the cost of moving them around has never been as high--and it's getting higher. So what are the long-term implications of that for how and where we make things?"

Over the past few decades the trend has been toward concentrating manufacture in bigger facilities. One extreme example, says Christopher, is Pringles crisps. Found in hotel mini-bars around the world, they are all produced from just two factories in North America and Belgium.

"Sure you get the economies of scale in such mega-factories but is that sustainable long-term? Well no ...

"I can see a time not so far away when we will need much more local manufacturing in plants that are smaller and more flexible because the cost balance of moving things for shorter distances will have changed. You don't need a Nobel prize in economics to see that because the trends are already there."

What has changed partly as a result of outsourcing is that supply-line dependencies are much greater, making companies more vulnerable to partner failures. Plus, longer supply lines tend to inhibit flexibility and customer responsiveness. …

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